Gather round children, today I am going to tell a Holiday story.
There was a year, many years ago, when my children were wee. Decorating involved the delightful stacking and draping of ALL the ornaments on the Southwestern hemisphere of the tree. I should preface this by saying that the tree, the choosing of, and decorating of, was a big symbolic deal for me. And by was I mean still is, as in I was up last night stringing 2000 lights on my ginormous farm grown Douglas Fir, while watching a Hallmark Holiday movie marathon on the W channel, sipping Coke Zero and stress eating protein bars. Guests at my holiday party tell me the tree looks like we stole it from the lobby of the Banff Springs, and I glow, shamelessly, like somehow I am the tree and someone has just told me how very pretty my hair looks tonight. I take pride in my tree, because, as it turns out, this is my one Martha Stewart month of the year, the other 335 odd days of which I skillfully avoid the trap of daily domesticity. The reason all my Martha goes into the tree? Well my mom was single mom, and a student for the most memorable years. Yet she made a big deal out of Christmas, and a big deal of the tree. And then when she got sick I took it over, in a next level overachiever kinda way.
So, here we are, back in time, the kids are two and five. At Christmas they are wide-eyed with wonderment and they can feel Mom kicking into high gear, and they know that here comes the be- amazed season full of baking and craft fairs, the city lit up, trips to Santa, and ALL THE THINGS (naïve little me has no idea how high she is setting the bar already in their young lives, cue evil laughter of 2018). But we are still way back in 2003, and 2003 was the year that I made a leap of faith and quit my work-from-home position as a research lawyer, a job that sounds by its amazing title to be lucrative, but was in fact, barely keeping the roof over our heads while my husband built up an entrepreneurial IT biz. I quit, so I could take the glorious work I do now from a side hustle to my full time gig. Was it a leap of faith? Yes. Was I strategic about it, waiting until hubby had a solid opportunity before taking the plunge, yes, I was, Dad. AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED, Erin, you call out with baited breath. Well, within a few short weeks, hubby’s gig fell through, shockingly, unexpectedly. We struggled. We remained calm. We freaked the hell out, and as we crept into to the season of all of everything I’ve ever loved, we were out of savings, and room on the credit cards. I had always budgeted for a lush Christmas. I was a budgeter and a planner. My budgeting began in the new year for the Christmas to follow. And having kids, I took that shit even more seriously, because MAGIC. Yes I had watched the Grinch and I knew that the Who’s still sang without their shiny shit, and I knew that stuff isn’t real and blah blah, kids just need love, blah. But it mattered, TO ME. It did. And nothing was gonna “un-matter” it, and if I told you differently I’d be just plain lying to you, me, and my inner child, who didn’t ask for a lot, but really really cared about this.
And NOW, all my leaping and faithfulness, and bravery was looking a lot like stupidity. A heavy coal like lump of shame had formed somewhere in my middle, and it was growing. And it occurred to me, in hot panicked menopausal like flashes that the Christmas my kind gentle mom had pulled out of a hat, year after year was going to be kicked like an ice cream out of my children’s chubby little fingers under my watch, by the bully that was…money? God? The Universe? ALL of the forces conspiring together, against, stupid, foolish, leaping, un-budgeting me.
BUT THEN, a strange thing happened. Cue suspenseful with tinge of hopeful music and pan camera to me, walking the streets of Kensington with pig tails peeking out of the stroller, and pig tails bobbing beside me, pushing the coal lump deeper down, and feeling it rise back up as chubby fingers point to toys in store windows, and beam with joyful anticipation that I know I cannot fulfill, when I see her!!! She (a random woman I have never met before) is pushing a shopping cart filled with bottles and bags of stuff, her lifetime on this planet, her relationships and loves, and experiences all reduced to junk and despair. She looks like me. I can hear my University boyfriend teasing me about carrying too much stuff, and I can feel the absence of the money I have just spent on snacks at the café screaming irresponsibility as if I had paid with locks of the children’s hair as a down payment on their tiny souls, and now I can see with my actual eyes that all of our failed adulting efforts are going to come to this.
I veer hard right, into the nearest shop, which it turns out, is a new age shop, with a counter display of oracle cards, inviting the customer to give themselves a mini-reading. If you aren’t familiar, oracle cards have messages on them and the idea is that you choose one, and it will give you some guidance, personal to you, from your higher power. Like a fortune cookie, but more intentional, and orchestrated by the voice of higher love. So while my kids play with crystals and flip through journals and ask a hundred and one questions and find new things to add to their burgeoning Christmas lists, like incense and spiritual jewelry, I find myself holding the Goddess Lakshmi in my literally hot little hand, and she smiles up at me pretty, and radiant, and says some nonsense about feeling her hand on my brow, but I am like, okay, pretty Indian Goddess, I’m not gonna say no here, because I’m feeling pretty rough, not gonna lie. And then she says to me, and by “says” I mean it is written on the actual card “Let go of your bag lady fears.” Yes, the words bag and lady are there, in ink. My eyes jump the door, as if locating my own personal bag lady from two minutes before on the nearby street might make sense of what is currently playing out in front of me. The card might as well read “Let go of your bag lady fears, ERIN”. I search the dilapidated shelves, a thousand book titles hang in the perfumed haze of incense. A hum of voices crowds the air, punctuated by my children laughing and running about. All of this converges, with me at the center of it. Okay, Lakshmi, I answer. What, am I gonna argue?
So we wander back through the festive streets, nag champa lingering in our clothing and hair. Shops that had cruelly flaunted hand carved toys and party dresses, now wait patiently for our luck to turn. And when we arrive home, I declare that we will decorate the tree. Because the tree is a doable, reachable, heart opening Christmas activity that doesn’t have to wait for a money miracle. My heart grows three sizes. I let the kids put on all the ornaments, wherever they want. I am vulnerable, but protected somehow.
And when the children and hubby are tucked into bed, I stay up and I finish. And it is my best work yet. I am not just Martha, I am Michael in the Sistine Chapel. Angels are fluttering their wide white wings and restored faith is in my fingertips as I position sparkly balls, childhood keepsakes, homemade thingies the kids and I have glued together. I reposition only the very necessary of my kids layered stacking. With each ornament, I am meeting Lakshmi halfway. And ta da! It is three AM. I step back about ten steps from the most beautiful tree I have ever adorned, gleaming red in perfect symmetry, all the more beautiful for the crazy belief it stands for. I am proud of myself, not for creating the work of art, but for having the bravery to step into the goodwill of Christmas without a dime in my pocket. I breathe the deep still air of the slumbering world. Peaceful. And then something catches my eye. A motion, as if a wand had been waved, or a handful of dust sprinkled.
When I realize that the motion is in fact the tree, crashing to a sudden death in my holiday forest for one, it is too late. The weight of it crushes childhood ornaments, mine, theirs. I scream, a Freddy Kruger just showed up and slaughtered my angels, kind of scream. My husband comes running. He is angry because I am not in fact being attacked by an intruder. To him, and the world at large, it’s just a tree!
Now I am going to tell you the crazy part. Then I am gonna tell you the “moral” of the story, aka, why this didn’t turn out to be my own personal Shakespearean tragedy and why you can put away your emergency tissue.
Last year I held my Giving Ceremony. At the end of every ceremony I offer a mini-read of sorts, because, YES, I believe that we all need to hear that direct voice of love, overriding all of the stupid shit we are constantly saying to ourselves and bogged down by. On this night I was reading for a dear, dear, client of mine who had struggled through four miscarriages in her quest for mother hood. And for SOME reason, I was compelled to tell her the story of the great tree crash of 2003. She needed to get beyond her fear and I sensed that this would help her. It was an incredible night, full of goosebump moments, aw’s and gasps. The kind that goes down in our little corner of history. So much so that when she arrived home, she grabbed her journal and sat down on the floor to scribble everything down before she could forget. And there, sitting on her floor, writing all the magical things into her magical journal, she saw something move in her periphery, and looked up to watch her perfectly decorated tree come crashing down.
And so the question I am going to answer today is this:
If a tree falls in your living room, did the Goddess (God, Universe, Santa, etc.) push it in a twist of divine cruelty to punish your emotional bravery and child like faith, only moments after bringing you deep solace with her message of peace?
You can breathe a sigh of relief. The answer is no.
PAIN DOES NOT TEACH LOVE, AND LOVE DOES NOT TEACH PAIN.
And that, friends, explains everything.
A tree is a symbol. It can’t replace love. Love cannot crash, or break, or fail to be beautiful. If a tree falling is the hand on your brow, then love is speaking through it. If the tree falling causes you pain, then fear is speaking through it. And fear only ever asks to be healed, to have its fall-out swept away, so we can get on with the business of loving.
Happy first Christmas with your new baby, Angie.
And Merry Christmas plus Happy Holidays to all of you.